Despite how Game 3 ended, did Ilya Samsonov do enough to become Caps starter?

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Did Samsonov do enough in Game 3 to earn Caps starting job? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

For about 85 minutes on Wednesday, it looked as if the Capitals finally had some much-needed clarity in net. The team's goalie carousel took another turn prior to Game 3 as it was learned that Ilya Samsonov would be starting and not Craig Anderson. Samsonov was fantastic in his playoff debut up until the final play where a costly mistake cost the Caps the game.

The question now is what to expect from Samsonov going forward?

The news that Samsonov would get the start was fairly shocking considering he had not played a game since May 1 and Craig Anderson had played well against the Boston Bruins in relief of Vitek Vanecek. It is even more of a surprise considering the team labeled Anderson out for "maintenance" rather than an injury.

"It was a maintenance day because we felt it was in his best interest with where he's at coming off a couple of games with a lot of work to take a maintenance day," head coach Peter Laviolette said.

But despite Samsonov playing for the first time in 18 days, despite just coming off the COVID list a few days prior, despite him never having played in the Stanley Cup playoffs before, Laviolette came into Game 3 with a lot of confidence in his young netminder.

"Why did I put him back? Because he's been our goaltender all year," Laviolette said. "Him and Vitek were the two guys that got us here."

For most of the game, that confidence was well placed.

Samsonov was brilliant in his postseason debut with 40 saves on 43 shots. He stopped 10 in the first period when he was tested early, he stood tall on a 55-second two-man advantage and, when the Caps lost their legs in overtime, Samsonov stood on his head to keep them in the game.

Washington was outshot 19-8 in the two overtime periods as Boston clearly tilted the ice in their favor. Without a sterling performance by Samsonov, this game could have ended much earlier.

"He did a great job for us tonight," John Carlson said. "If he didn't stand on his head, we probably wouldn't have gotten to that point."

"Sammy played an amazing game, stepping into a tough situation," Tom Wilson said. "He was one of our best players tonight. We were happy with that and it sucks that we didn't get the win."

In double overtime, Boston dumped the puck into the Caps' defensive zone. Samsonov went behind the net to retrieve it and left it there for Justin Schultz. As Samsonov skated back to his crease, Schultz seemed to turn slightly to his right, seemingly anticipating Samsonov to send the puck along the boards. That allowed Bruins forward Craig Smith to get inside of him. He beat Schultz to the puck, grabbed it and wrapped it around for the game-winning goal before either Schultz or Samsonov could recover.

"It looked like one of them went for 'leave it' and one went for an outlet pass," Laviolette said. "There was just a little bit of a miscommunication."

However it happened, the end was an unfortunate blight on an otherwise fantastic playoff debut for Samsonov leaving us all to wonder what exactly the takeaway should be. Was this just one gaffe in an otherwise dominant game by a netminder the team can now rely on as its starter going forward or does the miscommunication at the end taint the entire performance?

The answer to that question is an important one because it will likely determine the route the Caps go in net for Game 4 in terms of giving Samsonov another start or going back to Anderson, who Laviolette said would be available.

“It’s a tough ending, but I thought Sammy coming in off the 14 or 15 days that he had off, I thought he came in and had a heck of a game," Laviolette said.

Considering that Samsonov has been one of the team's top two goalies this season and just how well he played for the majority of the game, that should be enough to warrant another start assuming, however, that the loss does not go to his head.

"He was huge tonight for us," Carlson said. "I wouldn't say anything other than keep your head up, there's a lot more hockey to be played."